While the Caesar salad was composed of fresh ingredients, the overall construction was a limp affair burdened with a dressing laden with an off-putting pungency.
Though slightly thin and tough, the grilled ribeye proved far better than the other samplings. The steak had a generously rich meat flavor accompanied by a side of perfectly cooked rice and steamed carrots that were crisp at the core and surrounded by a sweet, yielding exterior.
A peppermill turkey sandwich was quite good, with thin slices of tasty turkey and fresh bread. But the tomatoes were colorless, waxy, and void of flavor.
The chicken calzone, however, was another under-performer in this HMR roster. Speckled with zucchini, yellow squash, and large chunks of chicken in a melding of gooey cheese, this wood-fire baked pocket had a thick, dry crust and a distinct lack of engaging seasonings.
Bon Vivant is certainly a more approachable and less exasperating place to shop than Eatzi's. But it has none of the energy or sex appeal the Brinker sensation seems to drool forth as effortlessly as meat juices flow from a rotisserie. Absent are the robust sounds, the heady smells, and the intense splashes of color on the produce that often deceptively indicate freshness (Eatzi's Roma tomatoes are almost unnaturally saturated with color and brightness). Bon Vivant is crisp, clean and convenient, but it needs an aggressive infusion of gourmet lust to effectively complete the seduction.
There are plenty of stories about hidden dining treasures unearthed in quirky, out-of-the-way places--the hole in the wall that might not be much to look at but serves breathtakingly exquisite food. And because it's so off-the-beaten track, its pleasures are known only to those who happen on it or are within earshot of its word-of-mouth praises. When I first happened on Paesano's, I was primed for one of these ugly-duckling transformations.
All the components were there. Paesano's is located in a disheveled part of Plano on 14th Street just east of North Central Expressway. The lighted sign in the back of the whitewashed restaurant has only the first couple of letters in its name illuminated. The road along its side is thin and badly patched, making the approach a bit gut-jumbling. Directly in front of the restaurant is a used car lot displaying cars that look like they should spend what remains of their lifespans traversing a figure-eight track. Scattered in the back of that lot, the part directly in font of Paesano's, is a host of decaying wrecks with blown-out windows, hoods sticking up in the air, and engine guts spilling out onto the ground.
Needless to say, Paesano's has no valet.
Fortunately, things are a bit tidier on the inside. The spacious dining room with a wooden-slat and wood-beam ceiling and an open kitchen is simply furnished, holding several wooden tables and chairs and a row of narrow booths stretched over one wall. The booth seating is covered in green fabric, and sections of gray institutional carpeting cover the wall just above the tables and just below a narrow window slit covered with white and green valances. Fake grape vines are threaded through the beams and along the walls. In the bar, fastened to black metal grates hanging on the walls, are various holograms of such things as human faces and wild animals.
Even with service that is as friendly and attentive as you could hope for, it's all just a little odd. And unfortunately, instead of a culinary swan arising out of this quirky clean hole-in-the wall ambiance, the ugly duckling hangs on and waddles across the menu too. Chef Artur Pira describes the menu as meshing of Northern and Southern Italian with Mediterranean touches. But the only thing you can say about this menu for sure is that far too much of it is either improperly or inadequately seasoned.
With generous helpings of carrots, potato chunks, mushrooms, celery, broccoli, and spinach, the minestrone soup held promise. But the thin broth, served lukewarm, lacked rich, robust flavors. The house salad proved much better, with fresh mushrooms, green and black olives, cucumbers, feta cheese, onions, red and green bell peppers, and fresh greens in a light, lively vinaigrette.
Watery to the point of sogginess, the mollusks in the mussels pomodoro were completely lacking firmness in both texture and flavor. A sauce of pomodoro tomatoes, garlic, shallots, basil, dry white wine, and clam juice did little to compensate.